Interview: SaLaAM ReMi Aims To Be The Catalyst Of Music That Inspires Future Generations
There have been many producers who have shared great chemistry with one artist, but only a few producers have been able to share a strong chemistry with multiple artists from different genres. That is something SaLaAM ReMi has been able to achieve working with artists from Nas to Jazmine Sullivan to Amy Winehouse. After getting some placements in the mid 90’s from the work he did with The Fugees and a few others, SaLaAM ReMi has evolved as one of the most sought-after producers in the industry with his unique style and now has artists demanding for his music. YouKnowIGotSoul had a chance to speak with SaLaAM ReMi about his history, his approach to making music for the likes of Jazmine Sullivan and Amy Winehouse and also what lies ahead for this Grammy award winning producer.
YouKnowIGotSoul: One of the first songs that introduced me to your music was a song that you did for Blaque called “Can’t Get It Back”. I know the song eventually went to the UK group Mis-Teeq so talk to me about the history behind that song.
SaLaAM ReMi: I actually wrote that song at one point for a solo Coko project or an SWV album, so I actually had written it and had it as a demo. That’s something I wrote for what I wanted to hear Coko and SWV sing. That didn’t end up happening, so then at some point, I was working with Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes from TLC on her solo album and then I met Natina from Blaque while she was doing some songs on her own. She was like “Hey, we need a single for the Blaque album”, so then I was able to do it and record it on Blaque. They halfway put it out and I think they actually shot a video for it, but it just went away because they got dropped maybe the week after. They got into a dispute with the label and they were no longer on the label. Once that was over, years later I was working with Mis-Teeq and someone at my publishing in the UK was like “This song might work for Mis-Teeq as well. Why don’t you just let them cut it because it never actually came out as a Blaque record.” So Mis-Teeq ended up cutting it.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Along with Mis-Teeq, I know you’ve worked with a lot of UK acts throughout the years. Is there a reason for that and are there any major differences between them and the US artists?
SaLaAM ReMi: Well one of the reasons I’ve had definitely a UK presence is that I was signed to EMI Publishing in 1994 and by the head of the UK company. So being he was based out of the UK, he definitely saw a lot of ways to keep my presence there. They had me working with things that were maybe outside of the box from what was happening in America. I can’t say there is a major difference, their radio station is different in that it’s BBC One and BBC Two which basically plays a lot more mellow stuff. There’s a lot of music happening, but there’s also a way smaller market whereas in America, it has its own Hip Hop station, R&B station and Pop station. But yeah, over the years I’ve been able to do a lot of different stuff. I’m looking at the world as a Global space rather than looking at the world as where I am or where they are.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Take me back to Jazmine Sullivan’s debut album. What was the creative process on that album?
SaLaAM ReMi: I had already worked Jazmine when she was signed to Jive Records before she was signed to J Records, so we were familiar with each other and then she had actually had come down because the label really wanted her to sing a cover of Keon Bryce’s “War” which she actually had on Nas’ “Street’s Disciple” album, which she sang and did a magnificent cover of, but she did it just to appease the label. They weren’t really sure about Jazmine’s writing process, so during the first session, she had the idea for “Lions, Tigers & Bears” and I was able to flush it out with her and come up with another way to do the track and make it work. As well we did “Live a Lie”, so by the time they listened to “Lions, Tigers & Bears”, it also convinced them that they should allow Jazmine to be her own writer because she was better than most. That was the start of it and then from there, our chemistry really kicked in and we were able to do a lot of creative pieces. With Jazmine also, we have a chemistry so I can come up with something and say “Do you like it?” and she’ll be like “Alright cool” and then she’ll just write and go for it. She has a ridiculous vocal range, so she’s able to do a lot of her vocal ideas and I might add a suggestion for ways to approach it or I’m malleable enough as a producer that she can come to me with an idea that she may have and I’ll be able to do it and make it work.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Along with Jazmine Sullivan, I know you’ve also worked with Amy Winehouse throughout the years. When I listen to an Amy Winehouse song, it sounds different from when I listen to a Jazmine Sullivan song and I find that interesting because you’re the producer on both of them. What is the approach to making sure they get something that works for them?
SaLaAM ReMi: With me, I produce a wide range. Even from the Blaque song, going ten years before that I was already producing Hip Hop for Craig G and Reggae for Shabba and Patra and then still turning around and doing work with the Fugees. I was working with Lauryn Hill one way and Wyclef another way, I could see the difference in them even though they worked together as The Fugees. So for me, artist to artist, song to song, it really depends on the day because in the middle of working with Jazmine and Amy, I’m still doing a “Made You Look” for Nas or something that’s totally left and at the same time going a whole other way with another artist. For me, it’s about the artist and making whatever the idea is come to life. Amy and Jazmine are different people so their ideas will mold together and sculpt differently. It’s like I’m making a movie, so they’re two movies and the experiences and opinions are different, so I put into their pie, soup or what they actually get into, not just want I want. It’s not about me, it’s about what they want.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Another artist you’ve been working with CJ Hilton and he’s a newer artist. You’ve worked with so many established artists throughout the years, so what is it about CJ that makes you want to work with him?
SaLaAM ReMi: He has a unique voice and I feel like he’s a talent that will be around for years to come regardless of whatever. CJ is a musician and can play a whole band of instruments. He’s in his early 20’s, he’s a young guy with loads of potential and I really like working with people who have potential because just as with everyone else, I got to work with Amy, Jazmine, Lauryn and Wyclef when they were still young in their careers and didn’t have any hits, but I saw potential in them. I like seeing the potential get realized by helping them figure out about themselves and how it can actually appeal to the rest of the world.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about your developments as a producer throughout the years. Have you noticed any changes in the way you approach music?
SaLaAM ReMi: I don’t think it’s necessarily changes, it’s just developments in the sounds that I use. I’ve been doing a lot more movies now like the “Spark” film at the moment. Even on Jazmine’s album, I used a 65 piece orchestra for “Bust Your Windows” and “Lions, Tears & Bears”. In general, my musical expansions keep going to wherever my mind goes and then I’m able to use the songs to catch up.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk to me about the history behind Monica’s “Cry” because I originally heard it by Jazmine Sullivan a couple of years back.
SaLaAM ReMi: Well it was a song that Jazmine wrote that wasn’t mean to be released and somebody somehow may have got a copy of it. It was a song that Jazmine had written during the first album. Monica heard the song and wanted to cut it, so we cut it.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk to me about Tamia’s new single “Beautiful Surprise”.
SaLaAM ReMi: I was in the studio with Claude Kelly and we were actually writing some stuff for Tamia. She was actually in the studio with us so basically, I sat down and listened to it, came up with some chord changes and told her I wanted something that felt like the classic stuff. Basically we sat down, wrote the song in a day and then I came up with the track and made it work. It was a straight forward session like “Hey, how’s it going? Let’s write the song. That sounds good. You know what? I’m going to take the track home.” That’s usually what I do. I come up with the basic chord changes, get the vocals down and then I take the track home and finish it up and make it sound good.
YouKnowIGotSoul: One of my favorite songs you’ve done is Melanie Fiona’s “Running” with Nas. Talk to me about that one.
SaLaAM ReMi: Melanie and I wrote a few songs for new album. Priscilla Renea actually wrote that with us and they just told me they wanted something that felt soulful and I actually had done music for Melanie’s first album but it never came out. It was a basic session, we sat down and I laid down some chord changes and then I left them in the room to come up with the rest of it. Priscilla actually wrote a rap for Melanie to sing as well and Melanie went in and did that. Eventually once we finished the song, they approached Nas about getting on the song, so they took part of Melanie’s part out and put Nas on it. But yeah, it was just a basic, straightforward song. I wanted to make Melanie sing out because I know she could and she doesn’t always use that part of her voice so I wanted to hear some pace.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You’ve had a lot of success with Nas, Amy Winehouse and Jazmine Sullivan. Is there an artist that you’ve worked or haven’t worked with that you feel could match that chemistry that you have with those artists mentioned and what are some qualities that you look for in order to make that happen?
SaLaAM ReMi: Honestly, it’s kind of divine intervention. I can’t call it, certain things just fall together right. Once I get in with Nas, Amy and Jazmine, it’s effortless. It’s the same way with The Fugees. Like I can sit them with any of them and come up with stuff back to back to back without even thinking about it. CJ and I have that type of chemistry as well so we have a lot of music that will surely end up on all types of different places because there’s that much of it. Liam Bailey is another artist who I’ve done an album on that really stands up to everything else I’ve done previously. Nelly Furtado and I actually have a great chemistry as well, so I’ve done quite a bit of songs for her new album. “Something” by her and Nas just came out, we’re in a different space. We have a real good chemistry as well. In general, when things flow, I don’t really have any problems coming up with music, it’s really just second nature to me. Jordin Sparks and I actually came up with some music that’s actually going to be on “Sparkle” and for her new album.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Have you had a chance to work with Jazmine for her upcoming album yet?
SaLaAM ReMi: Not yet, but I will soon. It’s finally getting to that place and I’m sure I will in the coming weeks.
YouKnowIGotSoul: What projects can we expect you on? I know you’re on the new Usher album.
SaLaAM ReMi: New Alicia Keys album and new Ne-Yo album. Actually, me and Ne-Yo work very well together as well. We’ve written a lot of songs and there’s definitely a few on this album that are mixed and ready to come out. Nas’ album, I did six songs on it and that’s coming out. Some real special pieces on there. Anthony Hamilton’s album as well. I did a lot of work with Cee-Lo as well, we have a great chemistry. “Bodies” ended up on the first album. Miguel too, his new album is crazy. Miguel’s stuff is actually really good, we have a serious chemistry as well without even trying. “All I Want You” and the ones off the new album were pretty much done the same way. We really have a seamless flow and we only get together for like a day or two at a time, but all those sessions come out magical.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Anything you’d like to add?
SaLaAM ReMi: In the future, I just think that as far as when it comes to me and my music, I’m trying to help be the catalyst for whatever is going to inspire more people and keep a great creative community going. Whatever I can do to make everyone’s records better, not just my own, just hopefully keep the whole flow of stuff going in a good direction. That’s what I’ll be doing, so look forward to whatever I’m involved with it and hopefully I can inspire the next generation.